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Aidan Baker, "Liminoid/Lifeforms"

cover imageUnlike previous solo efforts, here Baker is flanked by a concentrated orchestra, propelling his demur drones into consonant and complete compositions. The result is an album of staggering growth as Baker explores the elegant side of drone and the filth of classical percussion and strings that not only established Baker as an innovator but as a inventive curator of drone and its many variants.

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Aidan Baker - Liminoid / Lifeforms

Above all else, Liminoid/Lifeforms is a definitive statement. Baker clearly states his objective with the first few notes of “Liminoid Part I,” never wavering from his desire to capture the elements of classical and romantic composition with modern techniques. The result is an album that is warm; thick with texture and sonic craftsmanship. Albums with this much attention to detail often crumble under the weight of expectation but Baker has nothing to atone for once the final note of “Lifeforms” fades into the abyss.

The greatest accomplishment of Baker’s foray into the classical is in its simplicity. Much like the great masters of composition, Baker is never afraid to do too much by doing too little. Each of the four parts that comprise “Liminoid” joins seamlessly. Not until the soaring vocals of “Liminoid (Part IV)” can we begin to notice how Baker has carefully flirted with the grandiose by indulging it so completely. The subtle hints of cello and violin coupled with the restrained guitars and percussion are slow to reveal themselves as something more than Baker’s usual fare. “Liminoid (Part IV)” becomes the unveiling of Baker’s masterpiece; when the quiet decoration that has been painstakingly built for 22-minutes engulfs the classical philosophy in a fiery pillar of modern ingenuity. In spite of its ambitious nature, the whole of “Liminoid” does not falter for even a single note. This is proof that experimental music can be manipulated using the principles of Romanticism without compromising the chaos theory and fringe accessibility that has found deep roots in various genres.

After the breathtaking beauty of “Liminoid,” Baker risks toppling his opus with the sedentary drone of “Lifeforms.” Yet the risk is well worth it, providing the perfect counterpoint to elegance of “Liminoid” while also proving to be its mirror—albeit of the warped, funhouse variety. Where “Liminoid” was poised and polite, “Lifeforms” is a test of patience and will. It maintains the grace of its segmented lead-in but the restraint of “Liminoid” is replaced with rambunctiousness. “Lifeforms” isn’t abrasive but a piece built on dissonance and misplacement. Its parts, unlike “Liminoid,” are those of worn jigsaw puzzles; connections don’t fit as they should, the tabs are frayed beyond recognition, and there are holes from missing pieces. In this there is a majesty that admirers of “The Ugly Duckling” (and its ilk) will appreciate. “Lifeforms,” when held against “Liminoid,” will seem the tremorring visage; but as a mirror and a companion, it divulges the secrets of success found within “Liminoid,” while annihilating the measuring stick of beauty used for far too long.

The labeling of Liminoid/Lifeforms as a high form of art may be a bit of hyperbole but within Aidan Baker’s classical excursion, there are far too many gems of old and new to call it anything else. Over the course of one hour, Baker builds a sturdy bridge over a crevice that once relied on the likes of John Cage and Terry Riley as its architects. Old world beauty and futuristic tones can work as one, creating music that is as challenging as it is universal.

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Review of the Day

Elixir, "Don't Be Scared"
Quatermass
Here is another electronic, beat-based album that plays the game of "I love it/I hate it." The atmosphere is mostly dark, the beats thick and chugging, and the melodies somehow buried inside walls of static noise and time-warped samples. There's the first problem: sometimes the melodies never get a chance to come out and play. As a result, I'm left listening to a somewhat boring, somewhat repetitive drum track that doesn't have the power to carry the song by itself. Unfortunately, the album is produced in such a way that each song inevitably has some incredible sounds on it but they're completely attenuated by the way they're thrown into the backgroud and lost beneath a plethora of effects. But then, amazingly, all that wishy-washy noise comes together for a few brief moments and gives birth to an explosion that comes close to relieving the tension and weariness of the first few minutes of the song. This is how "Flesh Wound" opens up the album and it segues into the infinitely more entertaining "Gargantuan." I imagine one of those dolls that has a slinky for a neck bopping around to this rubbery and dynamic wall of beats only to have a stick of dynamite send it into the great beyond. "Gargantuan" has nearly the same production style as "Flesh Wound," but manages to pull it off by allowing the repeating drum and melody patterns to weave a bit more intricate and diverse body of sound. "Boiled In Blood" is a bit more low-key than anything else on the album and it provides a nice break from the havoc of the first two tracks. It unfortunately gives way to more standard four-on-the-floor dance music that sounds horribly distorted and only covers up what seems to be the most interesting elements dying in the background. And so this process continues throughout the duration of Don't Be Scared. I either love it or I hate it. Not much changes in terms of production: it's all pretty muddy and eventually this makes the entire album feel far too homogenous. The formula either works for some of the songs or it doesn't. This up and down experience ends up making the whole album feel dull; it's just hard to sit down and listen to the whole thing all the way through.

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